April 11

The Best Heavy Equipment Operator Schools for 2022

Last Updated on August 3, 2022

Construction projects are seeing delays because companies are finding difficulty in attracting and retaining talent. This includes heavy equipment operators, technicians, as well as truck drivers. With a rocky and unstable economy, take advantage of these labor shortages with the best heavy equipment operator schools for 2022.

Before we dive into schools, let’s look at different job prospects looming on the horizon.

Table of Contents


1. Heavy Equipment Operator

2. Heavy Equipment Technician

3. Truck Driver

4. Truck Technician


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1. Associated Training Services

2. International Union of Operating Engineers

3. Heavy Equipment Colleges of America

4. Heavy Equipment Operators School

5. Forestry Works 

6. West Coast Training

7. National Training

1. Heavy equipment operator 

A heavy equipment operator is someone who is responsible for operating a machine. This machine could be mobile like an excavator or wheel loader, or non-mobile like crusher or a recycler. Industries that employ heavy equipment operators include general construction, heavy civil construction, landscaping, utilities, demolition, recycling, concrete production, and manufacturing. Also included are logistics, mining, forestry, rail, and aerospace. 

Heavy equipment operators often serve as employees compared to owner-operators. Popular heavy equipment includes excavators, wheel loaders, backhoes, skid steer loaders, compact track loaders, telehandlers, and boom lifts. Plus, there are forklifts, trucks, cranes, harvesters, drills, and crushers. There is a legal certification process for tower crane operation, but having a license or certificate isn’t necessary to legally operate most equipment. 

Heavy equipment operators make between $50,000-$80,000 depending on where in the US they are and which machine they operate. Crane operators make the most ($100,000+) due to the risk of lifting heavy material dozens of stories off the ground in densely populated areas. Grader operators earn high pay because performing fine grading is a skill that requires advanced operators or the latest software. And forestry equipment operators earn their amount because of the difficulty with attracting people to live in remote areas.  

2. Heavy equipment technician

A heavy equipment technician is someone who performs repairs and runs diagnostics on equipment to enhance machine health. They work for either the end-user (contractor, miner, manufacturer, etc.), a machine repair service company, or for the heavy equipment dealer. 

These technicians either work in a garage or work “in the field” to perform on-site repairs. Again, most heavy equipment technicians work for a company as opposed to being entrepreneurs. And, they work in all the same industries as heavy equipment operators. Heavy equipment technicians can expect to earn between $55,000-$75,000.

3. Truck driver

Truck drivers have a lot of different kinds of truck driving options that determine their work life. For example, LTL (less-than-load) truck drivers contend with a lot of city traffic and exit their vehicle frequently to deliver to multiple customers each day. On the other hand, a long haul truck driver travels for hours on highways and may deliver one load every couple of days.

A shunt truck driver will work on a single property, such as an airport or for a truck mechanic, to haul large items short distances. A dump truck driver working at a quarry has a very repetitive set of short tasks—drive up to the excavator—wait for it to fill the truck—once filled, travel to the dump site—dump load—repeat. A concrete mixer truck driver has to understand the basic principles of concrete. Truck drivers can expect a salary between $35,000-$75,000. Generally, the larger the truck, the higher the pay. 

4. Truck technician

Truck technicians require many of the same skills and knowledge as heavy equipment technicians. However, there’s often a great emphasis on automotive technology because truck technologies overlap with both construction and automobiles. Most truck technicians earn between $45,000-$65,000. 

Although these can be rewarding careers, they can also serve as stepping stones to other jobs. 

Heavy Equipment Career Paths infographic

Career paths

From heavy equipment operator, you can advance to senior heavy equipment operator, which could include managing and training other operators. Or with additional training, you can move into a safety manager position or project manager position. With even more training, you could become an executive of a construction firm.  

Heavy equipment technicians will most likely begin their careers by working for someone else. The tools needed to work on heavy equipment are just too expensive for someone starting their career. From here though, you can eventually become senior heavy equipment technician and garage manager. 

Truck drivers have the option of working for a company or for themselves. There’s a lot more reward potential when acting as an owner-operator, but there’s more risk as well. If you work for yourself, you could scale your business until you own several trucks and employ several truck drivers. If you work for a company, you could become a senior truck driver or with additional training, a salesman for dealers that sell to truck drivers.

Truck technicians can move up to senior truck technicians and then fleet managers. The fleet managers monitor all dispatch and diagnostic truck data. They schedule repairs which ensures trucks are always available. From there, you can move into any other management or executive positions after achieving additional training. 

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School profiles

Not all heavy equipment schools are the same. Some are created for young people, some for those changing careers. Others focus more on trucking, and certain schools are more focused on construction equipment. And then some specialize by the type of equipment such as earthmoving, cranes, forklifts, access, etc. 

In order to operate a commercial-sized truck or a crane, the government requires you to have a license for those two machines. This means you will need to be a licensed operator. However most equipment being used at heavy equipment training schools (excavators, backhoes, loaders, and forklifts) don’t require a license.  

Here are summaries of a dozen of the best heavy equipment training schools

Top Heavy Equipment Operator Schools for 2022

1. Associated Training Services

Associated Training Services (ATS) was founded in 1996 as an affiliate of Diesel Truck Driver Training School, which was founded in 1963. It’s located near Madison, Wisconsin. 

Students who are out of commuting range can stay on campus for three months while completing their program.

The school provides several programs, including: 

  • Heavy Equipment Operations
  • Mobile Crane Operations
  • Tower Cranes
  • Articulated Boom Cranes
  • Horizontal Directional Drilling
  • Commercial Truck Driver (CDL)
  • Rigging/Signalperson

ATS makes a special effort to reach out to veterans and veterans can pay for their education with their GI Bill. The school ensures all veterans have free lodging while undergoing training and have access to employment assistance across the US. More than 4,000 veterans have enrolled at ATS during the last 25 years. 

Sidenote: veterans can get support from the national non-profit program—Helmets to Hardhats—which “connects transitioning active-duty military service members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry”.

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - Associated Training Services Course Listing

2. International Union of Operating Engineers

The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) has more than 1,000 full and part-time instructors on staff at their local unions. Each one is an experienced and highly skilled journey-level operating engineer.

Their programs include: 

  • H&P Construction
  • Pipeline
  • Safety and Health
  • Petrochemical
  • Stationary Engineer

Students can study at one of the 100+ IUOE locations or at their International Training & Education Center (ITEC), located near Houston, Texas. This facility offers a 265 acre campus, 8,120 square foot conference space with seating for up to 900 people, as well as 17 classrooms and labs. There’s also a 15+ pad crane field, simulator rooms, heavy equipment mechanics shop, welding bays, central utility plant with training redundancies, 227 room dormitory, a fitness center, and full dining facilities.

The union also offers apprenticeship programs, which are designed for people who know little to nothing about a trade. The union helps them become journey-level operating engineers during a three-to-four-year period.

Field training takes place both on and off-site. Some locations coordinate volunteer service projects, such as building a neighborhood baseball diamond, which both gives practical, on-the-job experience to the student and enhances the local community. 

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - International Union of Operating Engineers Course Listing

3. Heavy Equipment Colleges of America 

The Heavy Equipment Colleges of America (HECA) trains students in heavy equipment operation and uses the Adaptable Equipment Proficiency Testing (ADEPT) program. This is a nationally recognized heavy equipment operations certification valued by employers to test and certify students on all equipment but cranes. The National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) has their own national certification programs for crane operators. 

Students learn basic operations, safety, and maintenance, site layout, soils, and practical math. Also included is blueprint reading, general construction knowledge, staging and set up, proper execution, and accuracy in maintaining lines and depth.

The course Associate of Occupational Science in Heavy Equipment (AOS) teaches students how to gain and keep a job in heavy equipment operation through online and in-person instruction.

Locations include San Bernardino, California, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington DC. Although, not all programs are offered at each location. Washington DC is only for veterans.

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - Heavy Equipment Colleges of America Course Listing

4. Heavy Equipment Operators School

This organization has member schools in nearly every state. They offer three-week courses which include Heavy Equipment Operations Level 1, Heavy Equipment Operations Level 2, and Mobile Crane Operations 1. The first two courses introduce students to backhoes, wheel loaders, skid steer loaders, articulated dump trucks, dozers, motor graders, scrapers, water trucks, and utility tractors.

Level 1 curriculum includes basic construction safety, OSHA and NIOSH requirements, introduction to construction math, introduction to hand tools, and introduction to blueprints. Students will also learn about basic rigging, soils, grades, equipment operation, equipment preventive maintenance, and career opportunities.

Heavy Equipment Operations Level 2 curriculum includes introduction to earth moving, more safety, more soils, and more grades. At Level 2, students operate the more challenging equipment, motor graders, scrapers, and water trucks. 

The Mobile Crane Operations 1 program is also three weeks and aims to “provide the fundamental skills and knowledge applicable to mobile hydraulic crane operation and rigging and to obtain employment in the excavation and/or construction industries as an entry-level rigger or crane operator.”

Graduates of this program will receive national certification and would have taken the first steps towards achieving National Certification from the National Commission for the NCCCO. Curriculum includes crane terminology and nomenclature, the basic scientific principles associated with mobile crane operation, rigging practices, crane operation and safety, lift planning, load dynamics and load charts, computer aids, preventative maintenance, and more.

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - Heavy Equipment Operators School Course Listing

5. Forestry Works 

Forestry Works is a logging equipment operator school that teaches students how to operate heavy machines, such as skidders, feller bunchers, loaders, dozers, and graders. There are three locations: Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee.

The school’s Equipment Operator Training School is a four-week program designed to equip students who have little-to-no experience with the skills, knowledge, safety certifications and Professional Logging Manager (PLM) status so they can enter the workforce as a logging equipment operator.

Classes begin at 7am, and the classroom curriculum includes safety, forest management dendrology (tree identification), silviculture, sustainability, business management, communications, and Professional Logging Manager (PLM).

Afternoons—beginning on Day 1—students go to an active logging site and get into a machine.  Field training includes equipment safety, best management practices, timber sale, lay out, and basic equipment maintenance.

Class sizes are limited to eight people, so there’s plenty of one-on-one and hands-on opportunities. 

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - Forestry Works Course Listing

6. West Coast Training

Located in the state of Washington, West Coast Training trains students on heavy equipment, including excavators, backhoes, dozers and cranes. 

The Heavy Equipment Operation course meets all the training requirements outlined by the NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) and successful completion of the Crane Operator courses result in certification by the NCCCO (National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators).

Classes are four-to-eight weeks in length, and can be combined into Training Programs to ensure graduates gain the best mix of skills for their desired career.

West Coast Training students divide their time between classroom instruction and hands-on, in-the-field instruction. After orientation in small groups, each student is provided with a single machine on which to learn instead of learning multiple machines at once.

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - West Coast Training Course Listing

7. National Training

National Training is a school that helps people get their commercial driver’s license (CDL) and is approved by the State of Florida and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles as a coeducational career school. Located in Green Cove Springs, Florida, the school owns a 350-acre CDL training grounds that includes a private highway specifically designed for learning to drive heavy haulers.

The school has a simulator system that provides a low-risk, low-pressure means of training drivers, while the simulator’s three-axis motion platform still offers an immersive experience.

The school’s CDL Now! Program trains individuals in the operation of a Class A combination semi-tractor-trailer for entry-level positions within the trucking industry. This is for both interstate and intrastate in as little as four weeks. Students learn how to safely and effectively drive under various traffic, load, road, and weather conditions.

Heavy Equipment Operator Schools - National Training Course Listing

Find Yourself a Heavy Equipment Operator School

With the present day labor shortages, there’s no time like the present to take advantage of heavy equipment school training. More training specific to your desired job, increases your chances of being hired, and increases your wages too. There’s plenty of upside and payoff waiting just around the corner. If this sounds like a possibility for you, start your school application today, or if you’re a graduate looking to secure some heavy equipment, then we have just the thing for you.


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